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Israel Pushes Into Lebanon Despite Cease-Fire Deal

  • Jim Teeple

Israeli ground forces pushed deeper into Lebanon on Saturday, and Israeli air strikes killed at least 20 people - one day before the Israeli Cabinet is expected to approve a U.N. resolution aimed at ending the fighting. Israeli officials say they support the cease-fire, but they have serious doubts about whether Hezbollah militants will.

Columns of Israeli tanks and troops fought their way toward Lebanon's Litani River, 30 kilometers inside Lebanon. Hezbollah militants claimed to have fought Israeli troops to a standstill at a number of locations in southern Lebanon, and inflicted heavy casualties.

According to one Israeli general more than 20,000 troops are involved in the operation, which got under way just as the U.N. Security Council approved a truce deal to end the fighting.

Israel's Cabinet is to meet Sunday, when it is expected to approve the measure, but Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner says, between now and then, Israel wants to do everything it can to neutralize Hezbollah's ability to launch rockets into Israel from southern Lebanon.

"It is an operation that has been forced on us by the attacks of Hezbollah, which have not stopped, even though we were talking about a political solution," he said. "We are doing whatever we can to get to those [rocket] launchers, to eliminate the threat to Israel, and, hopefully, there will be, in the near future, a cease-fire."

Israel's top military commander, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, said Saturday that Israeli troops would continue operations in Lebanon, until the cease-fire is implemented.

The United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Alvaro de Soto, says he believes once the cease-fire is approved by all parties, implementation will quickly follow.

"I certainly hope that these are the last throes, and that there will be, in a day or two, a cessation of hostilities, that the fighting will dwindle perceptively, and that you can move within a week or so to a more formal and verifiable cease-fire," he said.

The provisions of the U.N. resolution call for 15,000 new peacekeepers to join a small U.N. force already in southern Lebanon, and for that force to assist about 15,000 Lebanese army troops to enforce a ban on the shipment of weapons to Hezbollah militants.

Avi Pazner of the Israeli government says Israel still has concerns about whether Hezbollah will adhere to the agreement.

"The big question mark is, what about Hezbollah?" he said. "After all, this is a terrorist organization, and you never know how they will behave, and that is the main problem."

Avi Pazner adds that, after a month of fighting, triggered by a Hezbollah attack that resulted in the abduction of two Israeli soldiers, Israel believes its actions in Lebanon, were justified and worth the effort.

"If this resolution of the United Nations is implemented as adopted yesterday, then, yes, it has been worth it. Because, then, we have managed to throw Hezbollah back from our border, and to neutralize the effects of their missiles and rockets, and also to liberate our prisoners," said Pazner.

As Israeli troops pushed further into Lebanon on Saturday, Hezbollah militants responded as they have for a month now - with rocket attacks across northern Israel. More than 1,000 people have been killed in Lebanon, and more than 100 have died in Israel since fighting began on July 12.

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